England's Bernabeu boycott splits opinion

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Spain captain Iker Casillas has branded suggestions England should not play a friendly at Madrid's Bernabeu Stadium "completely stupid".

The Football Association have advised their Spanish counterparts that an international, pencilled in for next February, should not be staged at the 90,000-capacity home of Real Madrid after England players were subjected to racist abuse there in 2005.

England coach Fabio Capello, a former Real boss who asked for next year's friendly to be arranged, distanced himself from the FA's actions today.

But the English governing body's fears of playing in Madrid were indirectly validated by Uefa this morning when they demanded Atletico play their next two Champions League games 200 miles away from the capital after violent and racist incidents involving their fans during the recent match against Marseille at the nearby Vicente Calderon.

But Casillas, who is also captain of Real, insists the FA's reluctance to play in the city is laughable.

"That really does seem like a joke and completely stupid to me," he told AS.

"At every stadium there are heartless people who shout against everything and everyone, but you can't generalise, and even less with the crowd at the Bernabeu who have always shown their respect and their love for good football."

Arsenal and Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas took a more diplomatic line and claimed the issue had been blown out of all proportion.

"I wasn't in the squad when that game was played, but we should be playing it down," he said of the 2005 incident when supporters at the Bernabeu aimed monkey chants at England's black players.

"The fans go to support the national team. That happened in that moment and that's it."

England's players have backed the FA's stance, especially as Emile Heskey bore the brunt of racist abuse in Croatia last month.

However, Capello is unhappy at his name being associated with a Madrid boycott.

After two successful spells at Real, the Italian has made a lot of friends in the city and would welcome the chance of a brief return.

"It's a mistake by the director of communications of the English federation. I don't know how my name has appeared in all this," Capello told Marca.

"Why would I not want to play in the Bernabeu? It's my home. Everybody knows that I love Spain, I have a house in Marbella and I love Madrid, a marvellous city where I have spent two great years.

"I don't decide where England play, it's a decision of the English federation which they will have to agree with the Spanish.

"For me I don't mind where we play, and of course if it is the Bernabeu, then all the better."

The FA's director of communications, Adrian Bevington, who yesterday claimed Capello was in full agreement with the organisation's position, confirmed he had got it wrong.

"It was an oversight to include Fabio's name and say he shared the same view about it," said Bevington. "His role is purely to select opponents."

Capello's irritation is understandable but equally the FA and their staff need to make their own opinions perfectly clear and there seems no prospect of such a game taking place in Madrid.

Uefa, European football's governing body, may have received criticism for not being strong enough in dealing with racism, but after clamping down on Atletico - who must now find an alternative ground for next week's game against Liverpool at eight days' notice - they empathise with the FA's position.

William Gaillard, special adviser to Uefa president Michel Platini, said he understood why England's players may be reluctant to return to Madrid.

Gaillard said: "I understand the players' fears. That is exactly why we are acting with renewed strength - to make sure that in the future England players will not be threatened by this kind of behaviour.

"We think sanctions like the ones we have taken are conducive to making it possible for clubs and national teams to play in Madrid without this kind of threat of racist behaviour."

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